Fertility & Acupuncture: The Power of an Integrative Approach

Acupuncture, one of the more prominent practices rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), has been used as a fertility treatment for longer than most existing therapies and medicine available today. TCM, in fact, is considered the “world’s first organized body of medical knowledge,” dating back to between 2698 and 2598 BC. As the eastern and western medical communities further integrate, acupuncture has become increasingly endorsed by physicians working with cutting-edge fertility technology. Leading reproductive endocrinologists are recommending it as not only a supportive day-of procedural treatment, but also as an essential part of treatment throughout the fertility journey.

The complementary effects of using both modern and traditional medicine offers more insight into healing and fertility health than we have ever had access to as a medical community. This is also why the field of integrative medicine is quickly catching the attention of progressive medical professionals from all disciplines. Combining therapies, such as acupuncture with IVF treatment for example, allows patients to utilize the best of what medicine has to offer. Fertility acupuncture, in fact, is becoming its very own specialization with the potential to offer proven, specific benefits for those experiencing infertility.

How does acupuncture affect fertility?
Acupuncture is the practice of triggering the body’s own healing properties by inserting thin needles into the top layer of skin at specific energetic points. When used for fertility, acupuncture helps regulate female hormones by promoting a balanced endocrine system that allows for more efficient ovulation and fertilization. It also increases blood flow, which improves the chances of conception. Studies show having acupuncture during the luteal phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle has a significantly positive effect on an individual’s clinical pregnancy rate, versus not receiving acupuncture during this period. Acupuncture can be applied to treat the entire body, or can be used to focus on specific causes of infertility. It can help reduce the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), as well as increase the chances of conception in women of advanced maternal age or who have been diagnosed with endometriosis. Women who experience recurrent miscarriages often seek acupuncture to improve uterine blood flow. Due to its specialization, it is important to seek out a practitioner that practices exclusively or predominantly in fertility medicine when seeking such treatment.

The complementary effects of both modern & traditional medicine offers more insight into healing and fertility health than we have ever had access to.

Who should get acupuncture and when?
Ideally, I recommend that women see a fertility acupuncturist at least three months before trying to conceive, in order to give the body time to heal its imbalances and to prepare for the fertility and/or pregnancy journey ahead. This holds true for women who are able to conceive naturally, as well as those who will be seeking IUI or IVF procedures. It is never too early, or too late to start treatment. If you cannot start acupuncture before you begin fertility treatment, it is still beneficial during your IVF or egg freezing cycle. Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer has been shown to significantly increase chances of conception. A 2002 study found that 25-minute acupuncture treatments before and after embryo transfer resulted in 42.5% success rate (with 34 out of 80 patients conceiving), compared to the control group which received no supportive treatments and documented only 26.3% success (21 out of 80 patients conceiving).

How can acupuncture help with male factor infertility?
The burden of infertility often unfairly falls on women in a relationship. In reality, male infertility is a major contributing factor for couples trying to conceive. A 2009 study notes that “approximately 15 percent of couples are infertile, and among these couples, male factor infertility accounts for approximately 50 percent of causes.” Acupuncture can help with sperm count, production and motility. A 2009 study in the Asian Journal of Andrology found that men who originally experienced low sperm output had an increased sperm count after acupuncture treatment. Typically, men that undergo acupuncture can increase their percentage of healthy sperm and see improved hormone levels.

What are the benefits of a collaborative approach to fertility treatment?
The impact of fertility acupuncture is not going unnoticed, as many physicians in mainstream medicine are seeking collaboration with acupuncturists to help with the efficacy of modern medical procedures. Working collaboratively presents much less confusion than it has in the past. We are truly in the most integrative period in medicine today, where once divergent medical practices can now functionally work together to provide patients with the most insightful and versatile treatment plans according to their needs and goals. As one of the several modalities of TCM, acupuncture can offer healing treatment to cohesively align with modern medicinal practices.

What about the whole person?
The purpose of acupuncture treatment is to rebalance your energy flow, heal underlying conditions, and to keep your mind and body healthy. In TCM, energy flow is known as qi. For the most part, when you take age out of the equation, an individual’s fertility is a reflection of one’s overall health. The way we approach health from an integrative medicine perspective requires treating the body as a whole rather than just focusing on specific conditions, such as infertility. Acupuncture can offer support to be more in tune with one’s health overall. It gives patients sustainable tools that they can use to explore and enhance their fertility and long-term wellness. Ultimately, to accustom oneself into healing and improving the physical and emotional well-being of an individual as she or he move toward parenthood.

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